Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 24, 2011

WHAT PUSHED ENSIGN OUT THE DOOR.... As recently as a few months ago, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) thought he'd come up with a smart strategy: ignore his scandal and pretend like everything's normal. Despite the criminal probe, ethics investigations, and humiliating sex scandal, the conservative Republican senator, as of February, even planned to seek re-election.

The tide turned fairly quickly. In March, Ensign announced he wouldn't seek another term, but assured the public he would stay in office through 2012. This week, Ensign switched gears again, and announced his resignation, effective May 3.

Why did Ensign reverse course and step down in disgrace? Probably because of what would have happened on May 4.

Senator John Ensign's resignation letter allows him to leave office just one day before he was to have to answer questions under oath about whether a $96,000 payment to the family of his former lover was illegal and designed to keep the affair from becoming public, according to people familiar with an investigation of Mr. Ensign's activities.

That formal testimony, scheduled for May 4, was the final step as Senate investigators prepared for what were almost certain to be Senate ethics charges against Mr. Ensign, Republican of Nevada. Mr. Ensign's resignation is effective May 3.

In the letter, issued late Thursday, Mr. Ensign acknowledged he was stepping down to avoid further scrutiny -- hoping that his departure from the Senate would mean the end of any further questions about his affair with Cynthia Hampton, the wife of his former senior aide, Douglas Hampton.

When the Republican senator announced in March he'd retire at the end of his term, he said he wouldn't resign for a simple reason: it would give the appearance of guilt. Now Ensign is resigning, the day before he was scheduled to testify under oath.

What was that about appearances?

Keep in mind, Ensign's departure does not let him off the hook entirely. Once he's gone, the Senate will no longer have the power to punish him -- he'll no longer be a member. But the Senate ethics committee, which has been engaged in a 22-month investigation, may yet release the findings of its probe, and if the committee found evidence of criminal wrongdoing, it may also refer the evidence to the Justice Department for prosecution.

We can't say with any confidence what the ethics committee has on Ensign, but it's worth emphasizing that the chair and vice chair of the panel issued a statement late Thursday that read in part, "The Senate Ethics Committee has worked diligently for 22 months on this matter and will complete its work in a timely fashion. Senator Ensign has made the appropriate decision."

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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Comments

This is so easy, I'd stake my life on it:

The Senate ain't gonna do shit!

They'll say the country has other priorities, and that they need to look forward instead of backwards.

Hey, why prosecute a Senator for schtupping a political aide's wife, when you let the President and his Vice basically f*ck this country nine ways to Sunday?

Posted by: c u n d gulag on April 24, 2011 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

Upon taking the Oath of Office Senators are issued a key to the washroom and a Get Out of Jail Free card. . .

Posted by: DAY on April 24, 2011 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

If Ensign had stuck to his guns and taken the upcoming deposition into the $96,000 cash payment, the Senate Ethics Committee could have added that deposition to the materials it forwarded to Justice. (Did he know that his parents were going to send this 'gift'? Did they tell him that they intended to send it? Did he ask them to do so? If he was aware of the impending gift, did he try to dissuade them from sending it?)

By resigning now, Ensign "leaves the committee to its proofs," but isn't on the record saying something that could later be used in a perjury/lying to congress/obstruction charge.

The best explanation for Ensign's sudden resignation is that he believes that the Committee's current file plus his deposition would be more 'indictment worthy' than the Committee's current file alone.

Posted by: WSP on April 24, 2011 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

One of the untold stories of this administration is the giant failure of the Holder Justice Department to fight business and political corruption. This should have been an easy case for the US attorney in Las Vegas. Instead of putting Ensign in prison the victim will go to jail instead. Several of the officers of the big Wall Street brokerage houses should have been frog marched to the slammer. Instead they weren't. The former VP should be in prison. He isn't.

All in all I am not impressed. Not only are the rich getting richer, but justice is different for them than the rest of us.

Posted by: Ron Byers on April 24, 2011 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

The Senate ain't gonna do shit!

That is a given. The only thing even more of a given is how quietly the media sweeps this whole thing under the rug.

Posted by: SWENXOF on April 24, 2011 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

"...just one day before he was to have to answer questions under oath about whether a $96,000 payment to the family of his former lover was illegal..."

The GOPers chances of retaking the Senate are greatly exaggerated, even with a large number of Dem seats in play. The GOP goons are covering their flank to try and hold onto this seat. I'm sure Ensign will be paid off in some manner.

Posted by: max on April 24, 2011 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

Mr Byers, yet, what has this gained Eric Holder? Google "Eric Holder and the right wing" and you find many right wing sites attacking him. "He played the race card", etc.

However, at first it appeared Angle would be able to gain Heller's seat in Congress, should Heller replace Ensign, but, this AM, I read she might be bypassed by the powers in Carson City. Anyone with knowledge about Angle's possibilities?

Posted by: berttheclock on April 24, 2011 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

All deficit hawks in the Senate should go after Ensign's ill-begotten pension!

Why let a philanderer feed off the public trough? -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on April 24, 2011 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

And David Vitter just laughs and laughs.
\

Posted by: dp on April 24, 2011 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

What Ron Byers said .... Why wasn't he asked questions about the payoff 20 months ago, by FBI agents, in some dingy interrogation room that smells like urine??

Posted by: bigtuna on April 24, 2011 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

Once he's gone, the Senate will no longer have the power to punish him.

Can they take away his generous retirement and benefits plans or make wait until he's 70?

Posted by: Winkandanod on April 24, 2011 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

Keep in mind as recently as 2008 Ensign was Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, in charge of the official effort of electing Republicans to the Senate.

Imagine if this was Chuck Schumer. Imagine the subsequent media reaction.

Posted by: The Guilty Carnivore on April 24, 2011 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

Guess we'll have to wait for his conviction to hear the old "[sniffle] I'm a christian, [whimper] please forgive me, [sob]..." BS.

As posted a hundred times before, scum like Ensign and his GOP peers are simply pathologically lying hypocrites -- all of 'em.

Posted by: nemisten on April 24, 2011 at 6:08 PM | PERMALINK

As several others have mentioned he still has a pension. However, I am sure being the staunch Republican with strong beliefs about the need to curb Federal spending and assure that no one benefit from Federal welfare, he will denounce his retirement benefits and health insurance benefits to show his strong leadership and the conviction of his beliefs.

Posted by: KJ on April 24, 2011 at 8:53 PM | PERMALINK

c u n d gulag wrote: "This is so easy, I'd stake my life on it:

The Senate ain't gonna do shit!

They'll say the country has other priorities, and that they need to look forward instead of backwards.

Hey, why prosecute a Senator for schtupping a political aide's wife, when you let the President and his Vice basically f*ck this country nine ways to Sunday?

Good point, Gulag... but too many people would say Bush and Cheney were a previous administration and why investigate them now...

Posted by: Brian on April 25, 2011 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK
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